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Pygmalion Day Two Recap

September 18, 2009

Pygmalion Music FestivalPrior to Thursday nights’ festivities I was a bit less enthused than the night before. Certainly, there were bands I wanted to see, but nothing of the same caliber as what was put on for the kick-off of the fifth festival.

Maybe that is what made Thursday night so special.

I began my night by heading to the Krannert Art Museum, where My Brightest Diamond would be performing at 8:45. I am very, very glad that I showed up an hour early.

Denison Witmer began playing shortly after I arrived and immediately I was drawn in to his charming, contemporary James Taylor acoustic stylings. His songs were wonderfully crafted, and delicately arranged backed by his soft vocals and gentle demeanor.

In between songs Witmer charmed the crowd with anecdotes about John Cougar “The Coug” Mellencamp and his upcoming trip to South Korea. He was disarming and quite funny, and is really one of the best surprises of the festival so far.

The act that brought me to Krannert Art Museum, however, was Shara Worden, a.k.a. My Brightest Diamond. I’ll admit that I don’t know much of her work, but since I saw her play the Queen for The Decemberists in concert, I have been intrigued by her.

She did not disappoint in the least, rather, kept myself and everyone else in attendance wanting more of her intricately crafted songs. The best part of Worden’s act is her sweet, operatic voice that she controls with the precision of a surgeon. Her voice rang out beautifully over the multiple instruments that she played, including ukulele and karimba. Her set was intimate and expressive, and was everything that I had expected and more.

After Worden’s set I headed to the Canopy Club to catch the last five acts performing there for the evening. I arrived in time to catch the last half of singer-songwriter Joe Pug’s set.

It was interesting to see the large room of the Canopy Club almost filled for a one-man-band. I felt that Pug made a special connection with the crowd in attendance, and his songs roused whooping applause from everyone lucky enough to hear him play. His set built wonderfully upon the acts I had just seen at Krannert Art Museum and built upon the foundation of a wonderful evening.

Milwaukee alt-country band Decibully played the small room immediately following Pug, and though their share of the crowd was a bit smaller, they commanded just as much respect. Their sound is a bit like an extended Ryan Adams jam, like something from his album Gold. Their set was fun and kept the energy high along with the spirits of the festival-goers.

Maserati took the main stage shortly after Decibully wrapped up, and from their first note a wall of sound was built that tore the roof off of the Canopy Club. The band placed their drummer at the front of the stage, and after a short while it was evident why they had chosen such an arrangement.

I believe the best description was given to me by a friend: Maserati’s drummer does with one-hand what most drummers struggle to do two-handed. As the band built their progressive symphonies his drum rolls filled in the backbeat with a steady rhythm and flair. The band built their sonic wall with two guitars and bass, and the occasional tri-force with Headlights’ own Tristan Wraight shredding alongside. Maserati blasted eardrums and awed the crowd in to a stunned kind of stupor, amazed at the spectacle in front of them.

After Maserati finished their set Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s prepared to take the small stage. As the area in front of the stage rapidly filled it became obvious that a typical Margot show would not be happening. When the band did take the stage it was not the nine musicians expected, but rather two: lead singer/guitarist Richard Edwards and violin/lap steel player Erik Kang.

This marks the second time in two shows at the Canopy that I have been let down by Margot: the first was last year when they cancelled a show. Tonight, I almost wish they had. A semi-coherent off-the-record conversation with Edwards after the show revealed that more members had made the trip, but a combination of alcohol and typical in-band tensions led to the meltdown that occurred this evening.

To their credit, Edwards and Kang did an admirable job, the two of them, playing selections from the band’s repertoire. However, it was not satisfying enough, and left a bad taste in many attendee’s mouths.

Lucero took the main stage after the Margot fiasco, and attempted to bring some of the crowd back to life with their rock’n’roll, but it may have been to little too late. Many people had left prior to Lucero’s set, and those who did stick around were not interested in the middle-aged bar music that the band was cranking. In truth, Lucero’s music sounded much more nu-metal than country-rock, and turned away all but their devoted fans.

By this time many of the remaining festival-goers had headed to the after party taking place at a house nearby the Canopy Club. Local band Elsinore began playing right around 2 a.m. and immediately lifted the spirits of those in attendance. Sandwiched between a kitchen island and a staircase, the pop-folk band churned out a few hits and got some feet moving.

Headlights were scheduled to follow up their impressive album release party after Elsinore, and Maserati was going to ring in the new day in style afterwards, but it was not to be.

Urbana Police showed up as Elsinore finished playing and quickly disbanded the party. Though the evening came to an unfortunately early ending, it didn’t dampen the quality music that had been heard, and didn’t take away any anticipation of what day three would hold.

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